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Full text of "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana (2008)"

SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS 



Number 181 August, 2008 



Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana 



by 
Matteo Compared 



Victor H. Mair, Editor 

Sino-Platonic Papers 

Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations 

University of Pennsylvania 

Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305 USA 

vmair@sas.upenn.edu 

www. sino-pla tonic, org 



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Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana 

By 

Matteo Compareti 

Venice, Italy 

It is commonly accepted — on both literary and archaeological bases — that 
Sogdiana was never part of the Kushan Empire (c. 50 BCE-233 CE). According to the 
Chinese envoy Zhang Qian (second century BCE), Sogdiana was occupied briefly by the 
Yuezhi confederation between 133 and 129 BCE, but then it was abandoned and became 
a buffer state between the Kushans and the nomads. 1 It was after the formation of the 
Kushan Empire that Buddhism began to be widely diffused beyond the Hindu Kush and 
the Pamir. There were two paths for the Buddhist missions in Asia: the first was from 
Southern India into Ceylon and Indochina, the second through northwest India, Bactria- 
Tokharistan, Sogdiana, Ferghana, the Tarim Basin, and onto China and beyond. 2 The 
latter path was certainly favored by the presence of a stable kingdom that controlled trade 
along the so-called "Silk Road," and whose sovereigns supported non-Brahmanical 
religions. 

The presence of Mazdean and Buddhist beliefs in Sogdiana is mentioned in the 
Tangshu (or "History of the Tang"), and it is impossible to deny the importance of the 



See: P. Cannata, Sulle relazioni tra India e Asia Interna nelle testimonianze cinesi, 2006, pp. 31—32; Yu 
Taishan, "A Study of the History of the Relationships between the Western and Eastern Han, Wei, Jin, 
Northern and Southern Dynasties and the Western Regions," 2006, pp. 3-16. 

See: E. Ziircher, The Buddhist Conquest of China. The Spread and Adoption of Buddhism in Early 
Medieval China, 1959. The path of Buddhism through Central Asia to China was seriously criticized by the 
same E. Ziircher, one of the greatest scholars on Buddhism in China: E. Ziircher, "Han Buddhism and the 
Western Region," 1990. On the diffusion of Buddhism even before the Kushans, specifically in the period 
of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka: R. E. Emmerick, "Buddhism in Central Asia," 1987, p. 400. See also: P. 
Daffina, "Sulla piu antica diffusione del Buddismo nella Serindia e nell'Iran Orientale," 1975. 

See: E. Chavannes, Documents sur les Tou-Kieu (Turks) Occidentaux, 1903, p. 135. 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

Iranian element in the fortunes of Buddhism in Central Asia. 4 However, the Chinese 
sources should be used with extreme care, because the Sogdians were very skilled in the 
transmission of false information. 5 However, it is impossible, with the present state of our 
knowledge, to ascribe the few traces of Buddhism in Sogdiana to the benevolent attitude 
of the Kushans towards this religion. 6 

The Buddhist literary works in Sogdian had been translated from Chinese since 
the sixth century. 7 The specific religious terminology originally taken from Sanskrit 
appears in Sogdian, filtered through Chinese. 8 The inscriptions found in Sogdiana proper 
that refer to Buddhism are very few, and they were found in Panjakand and among the 
Mount Mug documents. 9 

Numerous followers of the Dharma can be found among the Sogdians of the 
Central Asian colonies, in China 10 and probably in India as well. 11 In particular, we know 
China played a key role as the protector of Buddhist kingdoms in Central Asia in the 
Tang period (618-906) up until the battle of Talas (751) and the An Lushan-Rokhshan 
rebellion (755-756). In fact, the Tang armies constituted a convincing deterrent against 
the enemies of Buddhism exactly as the Kushans did in the first centuries CE. 12 This 



4 See: A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, "L'Evocation litteraire du bouddhisme dans l'lran musulman," 1974; R. E. 
Emmerick, "Buddhism Among Iranian Peoples," 1983, pp. 959-962; R. E. Emmerick, "Buddhism in 
Central Asia," 1987; D. A. Scott, "The Iranian Face of Buddhism," 1990; R. E. Emmerick, "Buddhism 
among Iranian Peoples," i. "In pre-Islamic Times," 1990. 

5 Also in X. Tremblay, the information about Buddhism in sixth-seventh-century Sogdiana is false "mais 
convient aux merchands sogdiens de Chine": X. Tremblay, Pour une histoire de la Serinde, 2001, p. 2, n. 3. 

6 See: E. De La Vaissiere, Histoire des merchands sogdiens, 2002, p. 84. On Sogdian Buddhism see: M. N. 
Walter, Sogdians and Buddhism, 2006. The ideas expressed by M. Walter are arguable in some parts. 

7 See: D. N. MacKenzie, "Buddhist Terminology in Sogdian: a Glossary," 1971; N. Sims-Williams, "Indian 
Elements in Parthian and Sogdian," 1983; X. Tremblay, Pour une histoire de la Serinde, 2001, pp. 69-71, 
203-206; R. Kaschewsky, "Das Sogdische-Bindeglied zwischen christlicher und buddistischer 
Terminologie," 2002. 

8 See: N. Sims-Williams, "Indian Elements in Parthian and Sogdian," 1983, p. 138; X. Tremblay, Pour une 
histoire de la Serinde, 2001, pp. 69-71. In eighth-century Sogdian art there are several hints of Chinese 
Buddhism of the Tang period (M. M. Rhie, Interrelationships between the Buddhist Art of China and the 
Art of India and Central Asia from 618-755 A.D., 1988, pp. 23-28; F. Grenet, "Vaisravana in Sogdiana. 
About the Origins of Bishamon-ten," 1 995/96). Loanwords in Sogdian borrowed from Sanskrit exist and 
refer especially to trade, without particular link to Buddhism: N. Sims-Williams, "The Sogdian Merchants 
in China and India," 1996b, pp. 49-50. 

9 See: T. K. Mkrtychev, "Buddizm v Sogde," 2002a, p. 57. 

10 See: B. I. Marshak, "The Sogdians in Their Homeland," 2001, p. 232. 

11 The spread of Buddhism among the Sogdians with all the related problems is admirably summarized in: 
R. N. Frye, The Heritage of Central Asia. From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion, 1998, p. 191. 

12 It is worth noting that during the reign of Kanishka (c. 78-130), precisely in 90-91, the Kushans in open 
contrast with the Han Empire penetrated as far as the Tarim Basin, apparently for futile reasons: P. 
Cannata, Sulle relazioni tra India e Asia Interna nelle testimonianze cinesi, 2000, pp. 38, 41^42. 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

Tang China position can be attributed to the Brahmanical reaction in the Indian 
subcontinent against Buddhism and Jainism, a situation culminating in the almost 
complete disappearance of the religion of the Enlightened in India, with the exception of 
Bengala. 13 But this region was completely isolated and surrounded by unfriendly 
Brahmanical domains, so the Buddhist kingdoms of Central Asia turned to the Tang as 
the natural protectors of their religion since Buddhism had become the predominant 
belief in China during the reign of the Empress Wu Zetian (684-705). The regions of 
Central Asia under Tang rule (more or less nominally) were strongly influenced by the 
Chinese element in their artistic production: the clearest result of this situation was the 
sinicization of faces portrayed in art, especially in Buddhist countries. 14 In Sogdian art (in 
a non-Buddhist sphere) the sinicization of human faces was not common. On the 
contrary, this motif can be noted in the eighth-ninth century paintings of Ustrushana, a 
Sogdian-culture region of Transoxiana converted to Islam only quite late, developing 
around modern Khojand (Tajikistan), that is to say, closer to the Tang empire borders 
than to the Sogdian motherland. 15 

Although the evidence is scanty, the existence of Buddhism among the Sogdians 
during the third century is clear from the available data. These are the references to the 
Iranian missionaries and translators in the Chinese sources. 16 Among them and 
particularly important is, for instance, the mention of Kang Senghui, a monk active in the 
third century who was born into a Sogdian family that transferred from the region of 
Samarkand to India and then Tonkin. 17 In 247 he arrived in Nanjing and started his career 



13 See: G. Verardi, "Images of Destruction. An Enquiry into the Hindu Icons in Their Relation to 
Buddhism," 2003. 

14 See: G. Verardi, "Diffusione e tramonto del Buddismo in Kirghisistan," 2002; G. Verardi and E. 
Paparatti, Buddhist Caves of Jaghurl and Qarabagh-e Ghaznl, Afghanistan, 2004, pp. 100-102. 

15 See: N. N. Negmatov, "O zhivopisi dvorca Afshinov Ustrushany (Predvaritel'noe coobshchenie)," 1973, 
figs. 4-8, 12-14. 

16 For a recent and much updated study on the spread of Buddhism among the Iranians see: D. A. Utz, 
"Arsak, Parthian Buddhists, and «Iranian» Buddhism," 1999. 

See: E. Ziircher, The Buddhist Conquest of China. The Spread and Adoption of Buddhism in Early 
Medieval China, 1959, p. 23; R. Shih, Biographies des moines eminents (Kao seng tchouan) de Houei-kiao. 
Premiere par tie: biographies des premiers traducteurs, 1968, pp. 20-31; E. De La Vaissiere, Histoire des 
merchands sogdiens, 2002, pp. 77-80. The name "Kang" is a clear reference to Samarkand. In fact, the 
Sogdians settled in China had adopted as a surname a character that referred to a specific part of Sogdiana, 
and they were generally called "The Nine Families Hu": K. Shiratori, "A Study on Su-T'e or Sogdiana," 
1928; X. Trembaly, Pour une histoire de la Serinde, 2001, pp. 134-135, n. 228; E. De La Vaissiere, 
Histoire des merchands sogdiens, 2002, p. 125; E. De La Vaissiere and E. Trombert, "Des Chinois et des 
Hu. Migration et integration des Iraniens orientaux en milieu chinois Durant le haut Moyen Age," 2004. On 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

as a translator. Kang Senghui was certainly Buddhist (and so, probably, was his family), 
but these references concern Sogdian immigrants. In the present study only Sogdiana 
itself is considered, although some conclusions will be proposed regarding the situation 
of Buddhism in Bukhara, Samarkand, and Panjakand in the period preceding the coming 
of Islam. 

The sources 

Islamic sources do not give detailed information on Buddhism in Sogdiana. 
Tabari (tenth century) tells of the presence of a "temple of divinities" and of a "fire 
temple" in a village a few kilometres east of Bukhara. 18 According to the famous scholar 
W. Barthold, the first mosque in Bukhara would have been built by Qutayba ibn Muslim 
in 712/713 in place of a Buddhist temple; 19 then, in the same city, there was, twice a year, 
a market called Makh where Buddhist images were still sold at the time of Narshakhi, 
that is to say, the tenth century. 20 However, in the version of the "History of Bukhara" by 
Narshakhi translated by Frye there are no explicit hints as to the kinds of temples and 
idols that were present. 21 Barthold maintained that the temples and idols in Bukhara were 
Buddhist. He was convinced of this because of the terminology used by Muslim authors 
(his main source), who notably used terms employed by the Buddhists. 22 According to 



the term "hu" see now: D. Boucher, "On Hu and Fan Again: the Transmission of «Barbarian» Manuscripts 
to China," 2000. It is worth noting also that the Sogdians settled in China have started to use the Chinese 
names at least by the eighth century, as testified by the term "n ("An," that is to say, "Bukhara") in a 
Sogdian Buddhist sutra copied in Luoyang in 728: N. Sims-Williams, "The Sogdian Merchants in China 
and India," 1996b, p. 58. Another translator of Sogdian origin, specifically from Samarkand, Kang 
Mengxiang, was active at the end of the second century at Luoyang: E. Zurcher, The Buddhist Conquest of 
China. The Spread and Adoption of Buddhism in Early Medieval China, 1959, p. 23. 

Tabari, II. 1230. See: R. N. Frye, The History of Bukhara Translated from a Persian Abridgement of the 
Arabic Original by Narshaki, 1954, p. 113. 

19 In the Russian version of his 1898 authoritative work, W. Barthold would have recorded other 
information on the construction of a mosque in Samarkand in the place of the "temple of idols" (not 
explicitly called Buddhist). His source was another Muslim author, al-Idrisi, active after the time of 
Narshakhi. However, this passage does not appear in the 1977 English translation of Barthold: P. Bernard 
and F. Grenet and M. Isamiddinov, "Fouilles de la mission franco-sovietique a l'ancienne Samarkand 
(Afrasiab): premiere campagne, 1989," 1990, 370, n. 32. 

20 See: W. Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, 1977, pp. 107-108. 

See: R. N. Frye, The History of Bukhara Translated from a Persian Abridgement of the Arabic Original 
by Narshaki, 1954, pp. 20, 48. 

22 Barthold, quoting Tabari, writes of a temple of idols in a village not far from Bukhara built next to the 
temple of the fire worshippers. In this way he made a clear distinction between the Mazdeans (the fire 
worshippers) and the idolaters. The latter, however, are not explicitally called Buddhist: W. Barthold, 
Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, 1977, p. 98. About the Hegira year 91 Tabari writes: 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

the pahlavi tradition, the term u buf normally means Buddha, even if ambiguous cases 
are attested. 23 

In the version of the History of Bukhara edited by C. Schefer, in the chapter 
dedicated to the construction of the mosque by Qutayba, it is written: 



Qutayba ibn Muslim founded a great mosque in the city of 
Bukhara in the year 94. That place had been a temple of idols [literally: 
botkhane "house of the idols"]. 24 

The Arab word budd or but (in Persian boi) is linked to three specific meanings in 
"The Encyclopaedia of Islam" by B. Carra de Vaux: a) temple or pagoda; b) Buddha; c) 
idol. It is not explicitly mentioned as a Buddhist or Brahmanical idol and neither is the 
temple, although many Muslim authors associate the term only with Buddhism. 25 
Although A. Bausani insisted on the ambiguity of the definition of non-Islamic priests 
and holy places in Persian literature, G. Scarcia supports the former view. 26 

"[...] they went in the direction of Bukhara where there was a village with a house of fire and a house of 
divinities with peacocks, [so] they called it house of the peacocks [...]" (Tabari, II, 1230). N. Lapierre 
writes about the construction of the mosque described by Narshakhi in place of a Buddhist temple, quoting 
a passage of Frye translation where, on the contrary, there are no hints of Buddhist buildings (N. Lapierre, 
Le Bouddhisme en Sogdiane d'apres les donnees de I'archeologie (IV-IX" siecle), 1998, p. 18). Frye 
reported in just one note a hypothesis by B. Spuler (Iran in fruh-islamischer Zeit, Wiesbaden, 1952: 139) - 
never confirmed - according to which the Muslims in Bukhara would have confronted the Buddhists and 
not the fire worshippers as reported by Narshakhi: R. N. Frye, The History of Bukhara Translated from a 
Persian Abridgement of the Arabic Original by Narshaki, 1954, p. 48, n. 1 82. 

23 See: H. W. Bailey, "The word «But» in Iranian," 1930-32. In the Shahrestaniha i Eranshahr (a pahlavi 
text dated to the eighth-ninth centuries) there is a clear hint about the juxtaposition between the "temples of 
the baghas" (gods) and the "temples of the daivas" (demons): J. Markwart, A Catalogue of the Provincial 
Capitals of Eransahr (Pahlavi Text, Version and Commentary), 1931, p. 10. 

See: C. Schefer, Description topographique et historique de Boukhara par Mohammed Nerchakhy suivie 
de textes relatifs a la Transoxiane. Texte persan, 1892, p. 47. 

25 See: B. Carra de Vaux, "Budd," 1960; D. Gimaret, "Bouddha et les bouddhistes dans la tradition 
musulmane," 1969; W. L. Jr. Hanaway, "Bot," 1990. As observed by D. Gimaret, it is probable that the 
Arabs during the invasion of Sind found more Buddhist than Hindu monuments: D. Gimaret, "Bouddha et 
les bouddhistes dans la tradition musulmane," 1969, p. 275. In fact, Brahmans were always hostile to 
monuments and also to scriptures. For the problem of the Buddhists of Sind from an archaeological point of 
view: A. H. Dani, "Buddhists in Sind as Given in the Chachnamah," 1978; E. J. van Lohuizen-de Leeuw, 
"Pre-Muslim Antiquities of Sind," 1979; W. Ball, "The Buddhists of Sind," 1989. In the Chachname (the 
history of the Chacha dynasty, c. 644-712, in Persian) a temple (probably a Buddhist one) is recorded in 
Alor (modern Rohri) called "Naubahar": A. H. Dani, "Buddhists in Sind as Given in the Chachnamah," 
1978, pp. 27-30. On the relations of the Chachas with Buddhism and enigmatic idols: H. M. Elliot, 
"Chach-Nama," 1955, pp. 44, 50-51, 54-55. 

26 See: A. Bausani, "La letteratura neopersiana," 1968, pp. 152-153; G Scarcia, "I Mongoli e l'tran: la 
situazione religiosa," 1981, p. 170; G Scarcia, Storia di Josaphat senza Barlaam, 1998, p. 30. 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

In the chapter of the "History of Bukhara" in which is mentioned the Makh 
market {bazar), Narshakhi states that, according to some elderly natives, the local people 
were bot-parast (idolaters), but he gives no specification of the kind of idols 
worshipped. 27 Then, after reporting the origin of the name of the Makh bazar, Narshakhi 
says that in it had been built a atesh-khane, literally a "house of fire," i.e., a fire temple. 
According to Narshakhi: 

...then this place [the Makh bazar] became a fire temple. During 
the market, when the people assembled, they went into the fire temple to 
worship fire. That fire temple was still there in the time of Islam. When 
the Muslims prevailed, they built that mosque [the Makh one] and even 
now it is a famous mosque of Bukhara. 28 

The text is quite enigmatic. Probably, in the very beginning the place was not a 
market of idols associated with fire worship, and so the Buddhist hypothesis suggested by 
Barthold would seem correct. However, the text says that the market was still active even 
after the foundation of the fire temple (most likely, until the coming of Islam), and people 
continued to buy and sell "idols." Narshakhi does not specify which kind of idols. 29 If the 
idols were Buddhist, why the people of Bukhara should have produced and bought them 
in order to go into a Mazdean temple to worship fire is not clear. As is now quite well 
known, the Sogdians followed a local form of Mazdeism different from the one professed 
by Persians, 30 who, in theory, worshipped only Ahura Mazda. So, it could even be argued 
that the people of Bukhara adopted the Persian Mazdeism because of their proximity to 



See: C. Schefer, Description topographique et historique de Boukhara par Mohammed Nerchakhy suivie 
de textes relatifs a la Transoxiane. Texte persan, 1892, p. 19. 

See: C. Schefer, Description topographique et historique de Boukhara par Mohammed Nerchakhy suivie 
de textes relatifs a la Transoxiane. Texte persan, 1892, p. 19. See also: R. N. Frye, The History of Bukhara 
Translated from a Persian Abridgement of the Arabic Original by Narshaki, 1954, p. 21; A. S. Melikian- 
Chirvani, "L'Evocation litteraire du bouddhisme dans l'lran musulman," 1974, pp. 32-33. I am grateful to 
Simone Cristoforetti for the translation of the Persian texts. 

29 These idols could have been very similar to the terracotta statuettes so widespread in Central Asia. As it 
will be observed below, such statuettes found in great numbers also in the region once corresponding to 
Sogdiana are probably Buddhist only in a few cases. 

30 See: B. I. Marshak, "Sogdiana. Part One. Sughd and Adjacent Regions," 1996, p. 253; B. I. Marshak, 
"The Sogdians in Their Homeland," 2001, pp. 232-233. 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

the Sasanian Empire just before the arrival of the Arabs, and for this reason they were 
considered pagans by the "genuine" Mazdeans (the Persians) and by the Muslims. 

As already observed, in the Tangshu there is a passage on Sogdiana about the 
coexistence between Buddhism and the local form of Mazdeism. Even if the reference to 
Buddhism seems to be incorrect, there is other information on the religion of the 
barbarians (hu) in a passage of the Jiu Tangshu and in the same Tangshu on the Persians: 

Jiu Tangshu: It is their [the Persians'] habit to worship spirits: of 
the sky, of the earth, of the sun, of the moon, of the water, of the fire. 
Several Hu [barbarians in general, but specifically for this epoch, the 
Sogdians] of the Western Regions who worship fire, or xian, have all 
taken this religion going to Persia. . . . 

Tangshu: They [the Persians] make sacrifices to the sky, to the 
earth, to the sun, to the moon, to the water, to the fire.. . . Several Hu of the 
Western Regions received the rules to make sacrifices to xian from 
Persia. 31 

The authors of the Tang dynastic histories knew about the religious affinities of 
Persians and Sogdians (or Iranians in general). In a much-discussed Christian Chinese 
source attributed to the Tang period (probably seventh-century), called the "Oration of 
the Venerable of the universe on alms — third part," there are two passages extremely 
important for the idols among the Iranian people: 

. . . both in Fulin [the Byzantine Empire] and in Persia some died 
because of evil laws: who professed frankly [his creed] was persecuted to 
death. But now the whole of Fulin worship the Venerable of the universe 
[the god of the Christians]; in Persia, there is still a small number of 
people who, drawn away by evil spirits, worship clay figures; but the rest 
worship Jesus the Messiah . . . 



31 See: P. Daffina, "La Persia sasanide secondo le fonti cinesi," 1983, pp. 162-163; M. Nicolini-Zani, Sulla 
Via del Dio Unico. Discorso del Venerabile dell'universo sull'elemosina Parte terza, 2003, pp. 37-38, n. 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 



and then: 

. . . Among the ones who wander [from the right Path], fear the men 
who worship the sun, the moon and the stars, or the men who worship fire; 
fear also the ones who worship evil spirits, as yaksha and rakshasa . . . . 32 

Once more, a source of Chinese historiography is quite well informed about the 
Persian Mazdeans (who actually had had religious monuments since the beginning of the 
Sasanian dynasty), 33 although with a large exaggeration regarding Christianity among the 
Persians. 34 It is worth noting, as some recent researches show, that Christianity had 
particularly spread among the late Sasanians (from the reign of Khusrow II, 591-628, to 
Hormazd V, 631-632), 35 so that the date of the "Oration of the Venerable of the universe 
on alms — third part" proposed by M. Nicolini-Zani around 641 is further supported. 36 
Then, there is the accusation of idolatry by the Christians against the Mazdeans in Persia 
(but probably also against the Mazdeans in China like the Sogdians) and even against the 
Buddhists. These accusations considered together with the passages of the Jiu Tangshu 
and of the Tangshu suggest that we should deal with caution with sources on the Iranian 
peoples of Central Asia. 

In Islamic sources there is another interesting passage about the accusation of 
idolatry against Afshin Haydar in 841. Afshin Haydar was a king of Ustrushuna and a 
favorite of the caliph, but he was eventually executed because some idols and a book 
associated with "the cult of the Magi" were found during a search of his room at Samarra. 
According to Tabari: 



See: M. Nicolini-Zani, Sulla Via del Dio Unico. Discorso del Venerabile dell'universo sull'elemosina 
Parte terza, 2003, pp. 35-38. 

33 At Firuzabad and at Naksh-e Rajab there are scenes showing the investiture of the first Sasnian emperor, 
Ardashir I (224-241) by Ahura Mazda, and again, at Naksh-e Rajab, there is the investiture of Shapur I 
(241-272) by the same god: L. Vanden Berghe, "Les scenes d'investiture sur les reliefs rupestres de l'lran 
ancien: evolution et signification," 1988, fig. 5-6, 8. 

See: M. Nicolini-Zani, Sulla Via del Dio Unico. Discorso del Venerabile dell'universo sull'elemosina 
Parte terza, 2003, p. 36, n. 85. 

35 See: C. Mango, "Deux etudes sur Byzance et la Perse sassanide. II. Heraclius, Sahrvaraz et la Vraie 
Croix," 1985, pp. 109-118; G. Scarcia, "Cosroe secondo, San Sergio e il Sade," 2000; M. Compareti, "The 
Last Sasanians in China," 2003, pp. 207-208. 

See: M. Nicolini-Zani, Sulla Via del Dio Unico. Discorso del Venerabile dell'universo sull'elemosina 
Parte terza, 2003, p. 10. 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 



... among his things there was a wooden anthropomorphous statue 
embellished with jewels and pearls and golden ear-rings . . . 

and then: 

. . . they found among his books a volume of the Magi and many things 
which proved his guilt and [they found] books of their religion used to 
pray to their god.... 37 

In this case as well there are no references to the nature of the idol. However, if it 
had jewels and earrings, it could hardly have been an image of Buddha unless it was a 
statue coming from Tibet or Khotan, where Tantrism existed. Maybe it was a 
Bodhisattva, but it is not possible to exclude the theory that this statue was a 
representation of a local divinity of Ustrushuna "di carattere fondamentalmente 
iranico." 38 According to E. Esin it could also have been a Manichaean idol because of the 
presence of illustrated religious texts, while E. De La Vaissiere and P. Riboud are 
inclined towards a Mazdean hypothesis. 39 

A notion expressed for the first time by Tomaschek about the etymology of the 
name of Bukhara is that it comes from the Sanskrit word vihara meaning "Buddhist 
monastery." According to Toamschek, the word vihara passed into Iranian languages as 
bahar and into the Altaic ones as bukhar in the "Hephtalite period." 40 His hypothesis was 
accepted by Barthold and, more cautiously, by Melikian-Chirvani. 41 Barthold insisted on 
the Buddhist connotation of the supposed Bukharan monastery even if the sources of 
Tomaschek are unknown, especially regarding the role of the middlemen of the 



37 Tabari, III, 1318. For a summary on this events see also: E. Esin, "The Turk al-'Agam of Samarra and 
the Paintings Attributable to Them in the Gawsaq al- HaqanI," 1973/74, p. 51. 

38 See: Lo Muzio, "Ustrusana," p. 918. 

39 See: E. Esin, "The Turk al-'Agam of Samarra and the Paintings Attributable to them in the Gawsaq al- 
HaqanT," 1973/74, p. 51; E. De La Vaissiere, P. Riboud, "Les livres des sogdiens (avec une note 
additionelle par Frantz Grenet)," 2003. 

40 See: W. Tomaschek, Centralasiatische Studien. I. Sogdiana, 1877, pp. 103-104. 

41 See: W. Barthold and R. N. Frye, "Bukara," 1960; W. Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, 
1977, p. 102; A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, "L'Evocation litteraire du bouddhisme dans l'lran musulman," 
1974, pp. 3, 11-22, 46-51; A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, "Buddhism among Iranian Peoples, ii. In Islamic 
Times," 1990. Also R. Gauthiot share the same opinion but he seems to ignore the hypothesis by 
Tomaschek: R. Gauthiot, "Termes techniques bouddhiques et manicheens," 191 1, pp. 52-59. 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

Hephtalites. In addition, Frye reported the opinions of several Muslim authors on the 
origins of the name Bukhara but without explicit reference to Buddhism. This noted 
Iranist suggests that there was a link with a religion connected with Mazdean priests (the 
Magi). Frye quotes Juvaini (13 th century) who says that, with the term bukhar, the 
Sogdians pointed at the "place of knowledge," probably a temple where there was a cult 
connected with the Magi. Frye is less inclined to believe in vihara as the etymological 
source for Bukhara; in fact, he has proposed that the origin of the name Bukhara (in the 
Sogdian *fiuxarak, ancient Turkish buqaraq, Arabian fakhera) is literally "lucky place." 42 
About 70 years after the first hypothesis of this etymology for Bukhara by Tomaschek, 
Marquart, quoting al-Khuvarizmi, posed the possibility that the idols of the temple 
mentioned above were Hindu divinities. 43 

The etymological problem linked to vihara calls to mind the Buddhist temple of 
Balkh (the capital of Bactria-Tokharistan, where archaeological investigation has 
revealed many traces of Buddhism), called Naubahar and recorded in Islamic and 
Chinese sources. 44 Muslim historians did not always agree on the nature of this temple; in 
fact, for Yaqut and ibn-Khallikan (13 l century) it would have been a Zoroastrian 
sanctuary while for Mas'udi (10 l century) it would have been the temple of a lunar deity. 
The comments by Barthold were, of course, in favor of a Buddhist identification, and he 
was skeptical of a Zoroastrian connection. In fact, for him, the two 13 l -century Muslim 
authors would have been affected by the less ancient tradition according to which the 



See: R. N. Frye, The History of Bukhara Translated from a Persian Abridgement of the Arabic Original 
byNarshaki, 1954, p. 120. 

See: J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang. Untersuchungen zur Mythischen und Geschichtlichen Landeskunde 
von Ostiran, 1938, p. 163, n. 2. 

44 See: W. Barthold, D. Sourdel, "al-Baramika," 1960; A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, "L'Evocation litteraire du 
bouddhisme dans l'lran musulman," 1974, pp. 11-34, 46-51; R. W. Bulliet, "Naw Bahar and the Survival 
of Iranian Buddhism," 1976; W. Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, 1977, p. 77; Sh. S. 
Kamaliddinov, Istoricheskaja geografija Yuzhnogo Sogda i Toharistana po arabojazychnym istochnikam 
IX-nachala XIII vv., 1996, pp. 303-308. Regarding the archaeological investigation in the historical region 
of Tokharistan, there are Buddhist remains at Qal'a-i Kafirnigan, Ajina Tepe, Kafir Qal'a (Tajikistan), 
Dalverzin (Uzbekistan) and Dilberjin (Afghanistan): B. A. Litvinskij and T. I, Zeimal, The Buddhist 
Monastery of Ajina Tepa, Tajikistan. History and Art of Buddhism in Central Asia, 2004, pp. 143-174, 
180-184. In several cases Buddhism is attested until the seventh-eighth centuries. However, in Tokharistan 
non-Buddhist findings dated to the seventh-eighth centuries as well were discovered at Qal'a-i Kafirnigan, 
Kafir Qal'a, Balalik Tepe and Kujovkurgan: L. I. Al'baum, Balalyk-Tepe. K istorii material 'noj kul'tury i 
iskusstva Toharistana, 1960; C. Silvi Antonini, "Le pitture murali di Balalyk Tepe," 1972; T. D. Annaev, 
"Raskopki rannesrednevekovoj usad'by Kujovkurgan v severnom Toharistane," 1984; B. A. Litvinskij and 
V. S. Solov'ev, "L'art du Toxaristan a l'epoque du Haut Moyen Age (monuments non bouddhiques)," 
1985. 



10 



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Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

family of the priests of the temple (the Barmakids) were descended from Sasanian 
ministers and, implicitly, should have supported Mazdeism. 45 However, according to M. 
Carter, the lokapala Vaishravana who was the guardian of the temple at Balkh as 
reported by Xuanzang could have been modeled on the image of a pre-Buddhist 
divinity. 46 So, the information attributed to Yaqut and ibn-Khallikan could be considered 
correct. Recently it has been proposed that the history of the temple of Balkh was more 
complicated than previously thought. In the beginning, it would have been consecrated to 
a lunar divinity but later converted into a Buddhist temple, in the Kushan period between 
the first century BCE and the first century CE. With the coming of the Sasanians it would 
then have been transformed into a Mazdean temple in the fourth-fifth centureis and 
finally in the sixth-seventh centuries it was reconverted into a Buddhist temple because of 
the Turk conquest of Tokharistan. 47 A Bactrian document studied by Sims-Williams 
clearly testifies to the use of a specific terminology for the temples of Bactria- 
Tokharistan: fiavapo (vihara) was employed only for Buddhist holy places while 
fiayoXayyo was a generic sanctuary. 48 Islamic sources do not show the same precision. 

In Samarkand and in Bukhara there were portals along the walls of the two cities 
called Naubahar. 49 Unfortunately the sources are not explicit on this point, but usually the 
portals were called after their direction so, probably, the temples or the monasteries 
would have been outside the cities. Scholars have usually accepted the term Naubahar as 



45 See: W. Barthold, "Der iranische Buddhismus und sein Verhaltnis zum Islam," 1933; W. Barthold and D. 
Sourdel, "al-Baramika," 1960. 

46 See: M. Carter, 'Aspects of Imagery of Verethragna: the Kushan Empire and Buddhist Central Asia," 
1995, p. 128; F. Grenet, "Vaisravana in Sogdiana. About the Origins of Bishamon-ten," 1995/96, p. 281. 
Khotanese upper classes, in fact, considered themselves to be descendants of Vaishravana: H. W. Bailey, 
The Culture of the Sakas in Ancient Iranian Khotan, 1982, p. 6. Faxian, the Chinese pilgrim who visited 
Khotan two centuries before Xuanzang, had already described a Buddhist sanctuary in Khotan called "New 
Royal Temple": S. Beal, Travels of Fah-Hian and Sung-Yun Buddhist Pilgrims from China to India (400 
A.D. and 518 A. D.), 1869 (reprint 1996): pp. 11-12. The name "New Royal Monastery" used by J. Legge 
some years after does not represent the real translation of the text by Faxian: Legge, A Record of the 
Buddistic Kingdoms Being an Account by the Chinese Monk Fd-Hien of His Travels in India and Ceylon 
(A.D. 399-414) in Search of the Buddhist Books of Discipline, 1896 (reprint 1993), p. 19. The fact that the 
temple was called "new" suggests a possible more ancient tradition probably originating in Khotan and 
later borrowed by the other Buddhist kingdoms as Bactria-Tokharistan, even if it should be considered that 
Buddhism was accepted in the latter region before reaching Khotan. 

47 See: Sh. S. Kamaliddinov, Istoricheskaja geografija Yuzhnogo Sogda i Toharistana po arabojazychnym 
istochnikam IX-nachala XIII vv., 1996, p. 304. 

48 See: N. Sims-Williams, "Nouveaux documents sur l'histoire et la langue de la Bactriane," 1996a, p. 648. 

49 See: W. Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, 1977, pp. 86, 102. 



11 



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Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

meaning Buddhist monastery, although R. Bulliet is not certain. 50 So nothing allows us to 
assume automatically that only Buddhists were idolaters; in fact, archaeological research 
has shown unquestionably that the Sogdians had a great pantheon of gods even if 
Buddhism does not appear as their main religion. It is worth noting that the entry in "The 
Encyclopaedia of Islam" studied by Bulliet was written by Barthold (and by D. Sourdel), 
a scholar too inclined towards Buddhism. 51 

According to Xuanzang, in the seventh century Buddhism suffered persecutions 
in Samarkand. 52 In Bukhara the fire -worshippers had a similar attitude toward other 
religions just before the coming of the Arabs, but it is not stated in any sources whether 
Buddhism suffered more than other creeds. 53 Narshakhi is the only source on this matter, 
but he never wrote expressly about persecutions against the Buddhists. However, as A. S. 
Melikian-Chirvani observed, the foundation of a fire temple in place of a "house of idols" 
(botkhane) in the area of the Makh market suggests the prominence of Mazdeans and 
probably an unfriendly attitude toward other religions, among them Buddhism. 5 

The archaeological investigation 

a) Architecture 

As observed above, when the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang arrived in Sogdiana (c. 
630), he saw persecutions of Buddhist believers by the local population of Samarkand. 55 
About one century later, the Korean pilgrim Hyech'o (in Chinese, Huichao) recorded in 
his memorial that in Samarkand there was just one monastery with only one monk. 56 The 
information gathered from the reports of the two pilgrims strongly supports the 



50 See: R. W. Bulliet, "Naw Bahar and the Survival of Iranian Buddhism," 1976, p. 145. 

51 See: W. Barthold and D. Sourdel, "al-Baramika," 1960. 

See: S. Beal, The Life of Hiuen-tsiang by the Shaman Hwui Li, 191 1, pp. 45-46. 

53 It is not possible to say whether Buddhism was persecuted in Sogdiana before the seventh century. 
During the submission to the Western Turks (mid-sixth to mid-seventh century), there is no reference to 
Buddhism in Sogdiana, but it is attested among the Sogdians in the Empire of the Eastern Turks: H.-J. 
Klimkeit, "Buddhism in Turkish Central Asia," 1990. If Maniakh (the name of the leader of the Turco- 
Sogdian mission in 567-568 to Costantinople) was a Buddhist name (as argued in: S. Lieu, Manichaeism in 
the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China. A Historical Survey, 1985, p. 185), then it could be 
considered that Buddhists did not suffer particularly in Sogdiana under Western Turkish rule. 

54 See: A. S. Melikian-Chirvani, "L'Evocation litteraire du bouddhisme dans l'tran musulman," 1974, p. 
61. 

55 



56 



See: S. Beal, The Life of Hiuen-tsiang by the Shaman Hwui Li, 1911, pp. 45-46. 

See: W. Fuchs, 1939, "Huei-Chao's Pilgerreise durch Nordwest-Indien und Zentral-Asien um 726," p. 



452. 



12 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

hypothesis that Buddhist buildings did not survive in Sogdiana, possibly because they 
were systematically destroyed. The archaeological investigation of the region could 
support such a view as well, but it is not possible to be more specific without concrete 
results. It cannot be excluded that in the future some new archaeological discovery could 
change the state of the field, which is now still lacking needed information. 

During the 1930s the remains of a temple embellished with possible Buddhist 
elements were found not far from Samarkand, in the Sanzar Valley. Unfortunately, the 
complex had been successively demolished and only scarce information was recorded. 57 
A famous sixth-century painting from Temple II at Panjakand is considered to be an 
indication that the Sogdians knew about Buddhist architecture (fig. 1). It is the so-called 
"funerary painting" of a figure lying inside a building similar to a stupa, flanked by two 
pilasters on top of which are the wheel or "cakradhvaja" (fig. 2). 58 The scene has a 
religious meaning, but the building is most likely a pavillion very similar to the 
mausoleum of Isma'il Samani (893-907) in Bukhara, a funerary monument considered 
with unanimous consent to be a work deeply rooted in the traditions of Sogdian art. 59 At 
Panjakand the painting, commonly identified as "funerary mourning for the corpse of 
Syavush," was recently reinterpreted as representing mourning of the body of a 
Mesopotamian deity, connected to the seasonal cycle. 60 

b) Painting 

Only one painted representation of Buddha has been recovered, in a house with a 
granary dated between the end of seventh and the beginning of eighth century at 



' 7 The information on this finding can be found in: L. I, Al'baum, "Buddiskij hram v doline Sanzara," 
Doklady Akademii Nauk Uzbekskoj CCP, 8, 1955 (non vidi); Stavisky, "The Fate of Buddhism in Middle 
Asia, in the Light of Archaeological Data," 1993/94, pp. 118-119. Among the few findings that were 
recovered at the temple of Sanzar there is the sculpture of a lion, but it cannot be considered definitive 
evidence of the Buddhist nature of the site: T. K. Mkrtychev, Buddijskoe iskusstvo Srednej Azii I-X vv, 
2002b, pp. 159-160, fig. 1.1; T. K. Mkrtychev, "Buddizm v Sogde," 2002a, pp. 57-58. 

58 See: K. Jettmar, "Zur «Beweinungsszene» aus Pendzikent. I, Die Verbrennung der Leiche Buddhas als 
Kompositionsvorbild?" 1961, pp. 265-266; M. Mode, "Sixth Century Sogdian Art and Some Buddhist 
Prototypes," 1994; L. I, Rempel, "La maquette architecturale dans le culte et la construction de l'Asie 
centrale preislamique," 1987, p. 82, figs. 2-3. 

59 See: G. Stock, "Das Samanidenmausoleum in Bukhara II," 1990, pp. 238-240. 

60 See: F. Grenet and B. I, Marshak, "Le mythe de Nana dans Fart de la Sogdisane," 1998. The 
identification was accepted and recently summarized in: C. Silvi Antonini, Da Alessandro Magno 
all 'Islam. Lapittura dell' Asia Centrale, 2003, pp. 130-133. 



13 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

Panjakand. 61 According to the archaeologists who discovered the mural painting, neither 
the client nor the artist was Buddhist (fig. 3). In fact, the position of the hands is 
reproduced according to an unknown mudra, in which the left hand is in abhayamudra 
(but with the thumb in an unnatural position), and the right hand probably in 
namaskaramudra. The latter is one of the most enigmatic mudra for the Buddha and the 
Bodhisattvas occurring in the art of Gandhara. 62 On the left side of Buddha, a male figure 
smaller in size and dressed in Indian garments stands with a flower in his hand. This 
painting is not a canonical icon; on the contrary it seems to be the work of an artist with a 
limited knowledge of Buddhist art. In addition, the image is represented as a marginal 
one, and it appears isolated above a door (fig. 4). However, the greater size of the Buddha 
is a clear signal that the artist wanted to stress his divine essence. 63 In addition, the flying 
figure of a dragon on the right side of the Buddha could be considered to be the 
distinctive sign of divine essence that was very widespread in Sogdian painting. 
According to some scholars, this could be considered a representation of the Buddha 
Bhaishajyaguru "the healer Buddha," an icon very widely diffused in Central Asia, in the 
Himalayas, in Mongolia, and in Southeast Asia. 64 Such an identification fits well with the 
house of a rich merchant who wanted every kind of apotropaic image around him. 

One of the painted panels in Panjakand normally filled with scenes from the 
"Panchatantra" or from the fables by Aesop shows a bald man who is probably going to 
be slapped on his head by a second figure (fig. 5). According to B. Marshak, the person 
who is going to be hit could be a Buddhist monk. 65 As Marshak writes, in Central Asia 
there are several stories about bald-headed people, and a famous Buddhist legend tells 



61 See: B. I. Marshak and V. I, Raspopova, "Wall Paintings from a House with a Granary. Panjikent, 1 st 
Quarter of the Eight Century A.D.," 1990, pp. 151-153. 

62 See: M. Taddei, "Gandhara, Arte del," 1994, p. 717. 

63 The representation of divinities as bigger in size than common people is a solution common to Indian and 
Iranian art. In Sasanian art the emperor could be represented as of the same dimension as the god and, in 
one case, at Taq-e Bostan, even larger: Khusrow II is taller than Ahura Mazda and Anahita because he is 
standing on a pedestal: R. Ghirshman, Art per sane. Parhtes et Sassanides, 1962, fig. 235; G. Scarcia, "La 
Persia dagli Achemenidi ai Sasanidi 550 a.C-650 d.C.," 2004, p. 101. 

See: Catalogue Paris, Serinde terre de Bouddha. Dix siecles d'art sur la route de la sole, 1995, p. 258, 
cat. 199; N. Lapierre, Le Bouddhisme en Sogdiane d'apres les donnees de I'archeologie (IV-IJf siecle), 
1998, p. 90. 

65 See: B. I. Marsak, "La Sogdiana nel VII- VIII secolo d.C. (Cat. nn. 196-211)," 1987, cat. 201; B. I. 
Marshak, Legends, Tales, and Fables in the Art of Sogdiana, 2002, pp. 140-141. The same technique used 
by the Sogdian artists to represent narrative episodes (mostly taken from Indian and Classical literary 



14 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

about Susima, Ashoka's elder brother, who lost the throne because he slapped the bald 
minister of his father, Bindusara, on the head. It was thanks to this fact that Ashoka 
ascended the throne in place of his ill-mannered brother. The legend is reported also in its 
Khotanese version. 66 

Another very interesting painting was recovered at Qal'a-i Shadman, a seventh- 
eighth-century Bactrian site that displays very strong Sogdian elements or, probably, 
even was executed by Sogdian artists. The main fragment shows a person dressed in 
typical Central Asian garments sitting cross-legged on pillows embellished with the pearl 
roundel motif (fig. 6). Litvinskij and Solov'ev (the archaeologists who discovered it) 
identified this person as a Bodhisattva. 67 Not only does the identification seem incorrect, 
but there are not enough elements even to allow the scene to be interpreted as of a 
religious character. The object on the left knee could be a sheath, so that the 
"Bodhisattva" could equally well be a representative of the Sogdian upper class or a rich 
merchant. 

Finally, the mourning scene on the southern wall of the Temple II at Panjakand 
(fig. 1) led some to see a parallel with the Parinirvana scenes in Buddhist art. In the 
same building there is another scene in which some crowned riders (the so-called 
"kings") present characteristics common to the usual representation of the quarrel for the 
holy relics of the Buddha: the gesture of their hands called tarjanimudra or "threatening 
mudra" (fig. 7). 69 This is another piece of evidence that the Sogdian artists knew about 
everything coming from India, which they filtered and adapted locally according to the 
Mazdean form. 



works) was very well known in the art of Gandhara as well: A. Filigenzi, "L'arte narrativa del Gandhara," 
2002. 

66 See: M. Maggi, Pelliot Chinois 2928: a Khotanese Love Story, 1997, pp. 75-79. 

67 See: B. A. Litvinskij and V. S. Solov'ev, "Raskopki na Kalaishodmon v 1979 g.," 1986, pp. 232-233. 

68 See: M. Taddei, India, 1976, p. 173. 

69 A. Naymark suggested to me the association of these paintings with Buddhist art, even if the idea had 
already been expressed in: M. Taddei, India, 1976, p. 173. 1 am grateful to Naymark, who supplied me with 
a copy of his unpublished Ph.D. thesis: A. Naymark, "Sogdiana Its Christians and Byzantium: a Study of 
Artistic and Cultural Connections in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages," Ph.D. thesis, Departments of 
Art History and Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington, 2001; see especially p. 320. I 
am grateful also to Ester Bianchi for the Sanskrit terminology of this specific mudra. A very similar mudra 
can be observed in a much later Sogdian metalwork with the representation of a siege of a city (probably 
Jerico) represented as a large palace. According to recent studies also this metalwork is evidence of the 
knowledge that the Sogdian artists possessed of Buddhist art: B. Marshak and F. Grenet, "L'arte sogdiana 
(IV-IX secolo)," p. 162. 



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Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 



c) Sculpture 

The enigmatic mudra of the painted Buddha observed above (fig. 3) appears in a 
terracotta mold recovered in Panjakand (fig. 8). The position of the hand could be 
considered another example of namaskaramudra. Unfortunately, it is not possible to 
propose a chronology for the relic: the mold was found inside Temple II, but its 
association with the religious building is not clear. Several images of local divinities were 
found in Temple II, both painted and carved. In some cases their iconography was clearly 
borrowed from Hindu art and one statue in particular is extremely interesting: the 
Umamaheshvara couple sitting on the vahana of Shiva, the bull Nandi. 70 According to 
the archaeologists who found the mold, this object is not the product of a Buddhist artist 
or, at least, its author was not familiar with Buddhist images. 71 It is worth noting that, 
according to one theory, G. Verardi proposed an original Buddhist use for the temples of 
Panjakand. 72 Even if the results of the excavations at the site of Panjakand revealed a cult 
different from Buddhism, 73 this terracotta mold recalls some of the stimulating ideas 
expressed by Verardi on the presence in Sogdiana of decorative elements borrowed from 
Indian art. A second terracotta fragment from Panjakand was identified as a 
representation of Vajrapani (fig. 9), but its state of preservation is very bad. 74 

A Buddhist terracotta icon was found in Samarkand (fig. 10). It represents an 
unidentifiable figure, but it is probably a Ttara. In this case also, the chronology is 
problematic, and the archaeologists who found it proposed a period between the seventh 
and twelfth centuries. 75 Other terracotta fragments with Buddhist subjects come from 
Saryk Tepe (Southern Sogdiana, not far from Kish). Among the most interesting 
specimens there are a Buddha head image (fig. 11) and a standing Buddha (fig. 12). The 



70 See: V. Skoda, "Ein Siva-Heiligtum in Pendzikent," 1992; C. Lo Muzio, "The Umamahesvara in Central 
Asian Art," 2003. 

71 See: B. I. Marshak and V. I. Raspopova, "Buddha icon from Panjikent," 1997/98. 

72 See: G. Verardi, " Osservazioni sulle sculture in argilla e su alcuni ambienti dei complessi templari I e II 
di Pendzikent ," 1982, pp. 283-293; F. Grenet, Compte rendu 163: Verardi G " Osservazioni sulle sculture 
in argilla e su alcuni ambienti dei complessi templari I e II di Pendzikent," 1983; G Verardi, "Pendzikent: 
on a note in Abstracta Iranica," 1986. 

73 See: V. Skoda, "Le culte du feu dans les sanctuaires de Pendzikent," 1987; V. Shkoda, "The Sogdian 
Temple: Structure and Rituals," 1996. 

74 T. K. Mkrtychev, Buddijskoe iskusstvo Srednej Azii I-X vv., 2002b, p. 94, fig. 2. 

75 See: K. Abdullaev, "Une image bouddhique decouverte a Samarkand," 2000. 



16 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

most probable chronology for the piece is sixth-seventh century and fifth-sixth century 
respectively. 76 One more terracotta figurine from Southern Sogdiana was found at Kul 
Tepe (fig. 13). Most likely it is a Bodhisattva sitting in dhyanamudra. 17 It is worth 
remembering that Southern Sogdiana is still poorly investigated by archaeology, and 
Buddhist findings could be considered quite usual here, taking into consideration the 
proximity to the Bactrian border. 78 Several terracotta statuettes found in Afrasyab in the 
beginning of the last century attracted the attention of students of Buddhist art, and V. 
Viatkin identified some of them as being of Buddha or Bodhisattvas (fig. 14). 
Unfortunately, in this case there are no incontestable elements to allow a definitive 
Buddhist identification for these objects, and an exhaustive study of the numerous 
Sogdian terracotta statuettes does not yet exist. 79 

Finally, a bronze statuette from Samarkand should be mentioned. It is most likely 
a representation of Avalokiteshvara (fig. 15), but it is not a local product: everything 
points to a Chinese importation probably of the period of the Northern Wei (386-535), a 
chronology based in fact on stylistic details. 80 Chinese Buddhist art of this period shows, 
together with a clear Indian matrix, remarkable Central Asian elements, which were 
adapted to the local taste. 81 The Sogdians and the Iranian Central Asians in general active 



76 See: S. B. Lunina and Z. I, Usmanova, "Terrakotovaja plitka s izobrazheniem Buddy iz Saryktepa," 
1990; T. K. Mkrtychev, Buddijskoe iskusstvo Srednej Azii I-X vv„ 2002b: 194-196. 

77 T. K. Mkrtychev, Buddijskoe iskusstvo Srednej Azii I-X vv. , 2002b, p. 196, fig. 2. 

78 See: T. K. Mkrtychev, "Buddizm v Sogde," 2002a, p. 60. This could be considered true also for Western 
Sogdiana, that is to say, the region around Bukhara: some seventh-eighth-century terracotta statuettes 
displayed at the Museum of Paykand are described as Buddhist, but no investigations were carried out on 
them. 

See: V. L. Vjatkin, Afrasiab-Gorodishche bylogo Samarkanda. Arheologicheskij ocherk, 1927, p. 26; V. 
A. Meshkeris, Sogdijskaja terrakota, 1989. Terracotta finds coming from clandestine excavations or from 
the black market are said to be numerous in the area around Samarkand, and in some cases they also 
present possible Buddhist elements. A terracotta plate embellished with a central head of a Buddha is said 
to have been presented to E. Rtveladze for study, but the piece (together with many others) was not 
published: personal communication of Olga Tsepova (St. Petersburg). For some other terracotta figures 
described as Buddhist, see: V. A. Meshkeris, Sogdijskaja terrakota, 1989, pp. 180-183; T. K. Mkrtychev, 
"Buddizm v Sogde," 2002a, pp. 59-60; T. K. Mkrtychev, Buddijskoe iskusstvo Srednej Azii I-Xvv., 2002b, 
pp. 194-196. 

80 See: Yu. V. Karev, "Statuetka bodhisattvy Avalokiteshvary iz Samarkanda," 1998. 

81 See: W. Willetts, Origini dell'arte cinese, 1965, pp. 184-196; E. R. Knauer, "The Fifth Century A.D. 
Buddhist Cave Temples at Yun-Kang, North China," 1983, pp. 35-46; A. L. Juliano, "Buddhist Art in 
Northwest China," 2001, pp. 133-138; Ji Chongjian, "The Origins and Development of Chinese Buddhist 
Sculpture," 1999-2000; A. F. Howard, "Liang Patronage of Buddhist Art in the Gansu Corridor during the 
Fourth Century and the Transformation of a Central Asian Style," 2000; J. C. Y. Watt, "Art and History in 
China from the Third to the Eighth Century," 2004, pp. 32-37; A. F. Howard, "Buddhist Art in China," 
2004, pp. 90-98. 



17 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

in China had a very important role in the process of transferring artistic typologies 
originally extraneous to Chinese and "barbarian" dynasties (such as the Wei) 82 until the 
Sui (581-618). Such receptivity towards Central Asia had been active in China since the 
second-third centuries, even for works of Taoist art (especially sculptures), such as the 
Xiwangmu image created around the second century CE or the Kongwang Shan rock 
reliefs in Jiangsu. 83 

Conclusion 

The few findings and the enigmatic written sources do not favor a strong Buddhist 
presence in Sogdiana. In addition, it is not clear whether the scarce traces of a Buddhist 
presence between Bukhara and Panjakand point toward a predominance of Mahayana or 
Hinayana. According to some scholars, the Buddhist borrowings in Sogdian art came 
from Gandhara or from Bactria-Tokharistan. 84 These hypotheses can be confirmed only 
with further research. 

At the present moment, the general impression is that there were a small group of 
Buddhists in Sogdiana. Could they be considered extremely rich or powerful, as in China 
and — exactly as under the Tang — persecuted in certain periods? The (small?) community 
practically disappeared between the seventh and eighth centuries, but it is not clear 



82 A foreign religion open to the whole of mankind such as Buddhism could help to legitimate a foreign 
dynasty better in China than could Taoism or Confucianism: W. Willetts, Origini dell' arte cinese, 1965, p. 
178. This idea is also more convincing if one considers that Empress Wu Zetian was even able to found her 
own dynasty (the Zhou, 690-705) within the Tang period. Such an act would have been impossible 
according to a Taoist or a Confucian point of view: A. Forte, "Cenni storici e relazioni estere, religioni 
straniere, scienze," 2005, pp. 25, 30-31. A very similar situation was probably confronted in India by the 
Kushans who supported the Central Asian trade and, consequently, also Buddhism. On the contrary, the 
Wei had an agricultural economy exactly like all the native Chinese dynasties. Under the Wei, Buddhism 
flourished under the sinicization of the culture of this barbaric dynasty and the persecution of 446-452. The 
Wei tombs recovered around Datong (Shanxi) revealed the sinicization also of their customs concerning 
funerary rites, even if Iranian luxury goods were recovered as well: A. Dien, "A New Look at the Xianbei 
and Their Impact on Chinese Culture," 1991; Yang Hong, "An Archaeological View of Tuoba Xianbei Art 
in the Pingcheng Period and Earlier," 2002. 

83 See: Wu Hung, "Buddhist Elements in Early Chinese Art (2 nd and 3 rd Centuries A.D.)," 1986, pp. 292- 
303; Wu Hung, "Xiwangmu, the Queen Mother of the West," 1987, pp. 32-33. The Buddhist elements in 
this relief from Eastern China can be observed both for divine figures and humans such as adorants, 
disciples, etc., who are represented dressed in Central Asian garments: Wu Hung, "Buddhist Elements in 
Eraly Chinese Art (2 nd and 3 rd Centuries A.D.)," 1986, pp. 292-303; Zheng Yan, "Barbarian Images in Han 
Period Art," 1998, p. 54. 

84 See: M. Taddei, India, 1976, p. 173; F. Grenet, "The Second of Three Encounters between 
Zoroastrianism and Hinduism: Plastic Influences in Bactria and Sogdiana (2 n -8* century A.D.)," 1994, p. 
52, n. 29. 



18 



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Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

whether the cause of this situation was persecution. If it were persecution, it is likely that 
the scarcity of traces of Buddhist art in this part of Central Asia are due to a systematic 
destruction of the monuments by the local Mazdeans: in fact the materials employed for 
their construction most likely were the same as that of the houses and temples in the rest 
of Sogdiana, such as unbaked bricks and other highly perishable materials. It is also 
highly probable that this "persecution" happened in a way similar to such occurrences in 
China during the ninth century. 

The Chinese point of view could once more be important in understanding the 
situation. It is now clear that the period between the fifth and sixth centuries in China was 
very important, not only for the formation of the local Buddhist iconography but also for 
the particular form of Mazdean (in Chinese, xiarif 5 art of the Sogdian immigrants. As has 
recently been observed, the funerary monuments of these Sogdians were full of elements 
borrowed from Chinese art of the Han period and also divinities represented according to 
Hindu iconography. "Indian iconography" can be observed also for the Hindu gods, 
which were already accepted inside the Buddhist system and represented in cave VIII at 
Yungang dated to the late fifth century. 86 It seems likely that the Iranian Buddhists 
borrowed the iconography for representations of the Hindu deities inside their own 
system, not directly from India but from Central Asia, possibly from Sogdiana. What we 
still do not know is whether the iconography of the Indian gods arrived in Sogdiana for 
the representation of local deities following Buddhism or directly through Hinduism. 87 
The conclusions proposed by Marta Carter in one of her last, interesting studies point in 
part to what one could consider a sort of battle between Iranian Mazdeans and Iranian 
Buddhists on neutral Chinese soil. Maybe this battle had already been won in Sogdiana 
by the Mazdeans, who could not openly persecute the Buddhists or destroy their 
monuments in China as they had probably done in their motherland. It is not certain 
whether the Mazdeans ever tried to convert Chinese dynasties to their creed as the 



85 E. de la Vaissiere and P. Riboud, "Les livres des sogdiens," 2003, p. 130. For a general presentation of 
the problem of Sogdian religion according to Chinese sources, see: P. Riboud, "Reflexions sur les 
pratiques religieuses designees sous le nom de xian," 2005. 

86 See: M. L. Carter, "Notes on Two Chinese Stone Funerary Beds Bases with Zoroastrian Symbolism," 
2002, pp. 274-275. 

87 The latter hypothesis seems more convincing. This problem was the main part of the PhD dissertation of 
the present author, which is not yet published. For a very interesting point of view explained especially on 



19 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

Buddhists did more successfully, even if traces of Mazdean art can be found at the court 
of the "barbarian" Wei. 88 

A last possible reference to the Sogdian adversity towards Buddhism can be found 
in an inscription among the Afrasyab paintings. One can see written in it (and it is still 
legible) that the ambassadors from Chaganyan knew the habits, the script system, and the 
gods of Samarkand — so they would have not offended the Sogdians. 89 Probably the 
Chaganyans (who came from a Buddhist region) knew the attitude of the Sogdians 
towards Buddhism, and with this statement they officially refused to act as a sort of 
missionary in a foreign land where their religion was not well appreciated. 90 

It is worth noting once more that these are only hypotheses without any claim to 
being definitive. However, from the points observed in this discussion it is quite clear that 
Buddhism was not so strong in Sogdiana at the dawn of the Islamic conquest as many 
scholars in the past have considered. Actually, in complete contrast with B. Spuler's 
opinion, 91 the real antagonist of Islam in Sogdiana was probably the local form of 
Mazdeism, whose divinities were represented often in paintings and in the still enigmatic 
terracotta statuettes, the main sources of information on the Sogdian religious creed. 



archaeological bases see: F. Grenet, "The Second of Three Encounters between Zoroastrianism and 
Hinduism: Plastic Influences in Bactria and Sogdiana (2 n -8 l century A.D.)," 1994. 

88 See: M. Carter, "Notes on Two Chinese Stone Funerary Beds Bases with Zoroastrian Symbolism," 2002, 
pp. 274-276. On some studies on the (supposed) adoption of Mazdean elements in sixth-century Chinese 
art: Shi, "Study on a Stone Carving from the Tomb of a Sogdian Aristocrat of the Northern Qi," 2000, figs. 
10-13; Shi, "Senmurv and Farn Spiritual Light. An Explanation of the Images on the Stone Coffin of Yuan 
Mi of the Northern Wei," 2004, pp. 150-158. 

89 V. Livsic, "The Sogdian Wall Inscriptions on the Site of Afrasiab," 2006, p. 61. 

90 T. K. Mkrtychev, "Buddizm v Sogde," 2002a, p. 60. Very recently Frantz Grenet proposed seeing in this 
inscription at Afrasyab a reference to the participation of the Chaganyans in local sacrifices: F. Grenet, 
"The Self-image of the Sogdians," 2005. 

See: R. N. Frye, The History of Bukhara Translated from a Persian Abridgement of the Arabic Original 
by Narshaki, p. 48. 



20 



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Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 

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31 



Figures 



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32 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 





Fig. 2. After: Stock, 1990, fig. 5. 



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33 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
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Fig. 4. After: Marshak, Raspopova, 1990, fig. 19. 




Fig. 5. After: Marshak, 2002, fig. 91. 



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Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
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^^j^^i^::^^ ' t 



Fig. 6. After: Litvinskij, Solov'ev, 1986, fig. 4. 










Fig. 7. After: Belenitckij, 1973, 11. 



35 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 




Fig. 8. After: Marshak, Raspopova, 1997/98. 



36 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 




Fig. 9. After: Mkrtychev, 2002.b, p. 194, fig. 2. 



37 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 



•ffJHBK.- VT I 






. 




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Fig. 12. After: Mkrtychev, 2002.b, p. 196, fig. 1. 



39 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 




Fig. 13. After: Mkrtychev, 2002.b, p. 196, fig. 2. 



40 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 




Fig. 14. After: Vjatkin, 1927, fig. 21. 



41 



Matteo Compareti, "Traces of Buddhist Art in Sogdiana" 
Sino-Platonic Papers, 181 (August, 2008) 




Fig. 15. After: Karev, 1998. 



42 



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